Athanasius. Orthodoxy. Two big words remain connected in the history of the Church since the 4th century!
Orthodoxy refers to a “right opinion” about matters of faith, or the accepted beliefs of a religious group, in this context, of Christians in the various churches forming the one catholic Church.
Athanasius, is a Saint and Doctor of the Church, whose writings defending the Doctrine of the Church in his time “shaped the future of the Church” besides being recognized as a significant figure in history as an Egyptian patriot.
He was born in 293 ( or 296) at Alexandria where he probably received his education in grammar, rhetoric and Greek literature, theology and philosophy. This kind of education points to a background where the family, probably Christian, was likely prominent and well off.
It is believed that one day while Athanasius and his friends were playing ‘church’ with his friends, pretending to administer baptism, they were seen by Bishop Alexander who was so impressed that he sent for the boys and decided to train them for the priesthood.
Eventually, Athanasius, who had been one of the boys, was ordained deacon and became the secretary of Bishop Alexander. In this position he accompanied and supported his Bishop in his efforts to combat Arius, a priest of the Church of Alexandria, who was denying the Divinity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, a belief that gave rise to Arianism that continued to spread among the believers, causing rifts and conflicts within the Church. As the Bishop’s secretary, he was present at the famous Council of Nicaea, where the Nicene Creed, affirming the Divinity of Christ and the belief in one Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was ‘adopted as the Creed of the Church’. After the death of Bishop Alexander, Athanasius was unanimously elected as Bishop of Alexandria. He has been described as having an energetic personality, with a quick wit, and although pleasant in conversation with a sense of humour, he was also spontaneous and courageous in debate even when the going started being tough and cruel. His enemies often referred to him as ‘the short, dark skinned Egyptian Bishop’ going as far as referring to him as the ‘Black Dwarf.’
Throughout his episcopate, he continued to fight Arianism, holding strong against accusations and threats from all fronts. He was Bishop of Alexandria for 45 years, of which he spent 17 years in exile, even spending 6 years hiding in the desert with a group of monks. In fact, he was exiled 5 times by 4 Roman Emperors who sympathized with the Arian beliefs.
He died in 373, spending his last few years in peace, having been cleared of all the accusations.